Firm fined £17k after worker's arm sliced off

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AN agricultural feed company has been fined £16,750 after a worker had his arm sliced off when it was trapped in a cleaning machine.

Bing Neil was only months away from retiring after 28 years working as a miller for John Hogarth of Kelso when the accident happened in February 2008.

Surgeons were unable to re-attach the 65-year-old's amputated limb which was severed 10cm below his right elbow.

Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told there had been a "degree of complacency" at the firm, which has been operating from a mill in Kelso town centre since 1935.

Procurator fiscal Maureen McGovern described how Mr Neil had started his usual night shift on February 28, 2008, at 5.30pm and the first task was to clean a rotary valve or air seal to avoid it being choked with oat products which was 4 metres above the ground.

But he slipped and his right arm became entangled in the exposed rotating valve blade.

Ms McGovern told how he was then suspended above the floor as the rotor drew his arm into the mechanism because it had not been isolated from its electrical supply which was difficult to reach.

She said his arm was severed and he then fell approximately 3 metres to the floor.

Mr Neil's screams were heard by a colleague who ran to his assistance.

He managed to walk to the office where an ambulance was called.

The colleague retrieved the severed limb and it was wrapped in a tea towel before being given to paramedics and Mr Neil remained conscious during the journey to hospital.

But the orthopaedic consultant ruled out the possibility of the amputated limb being re-attached and he spent the next two weeks in hospital.

John Hogarth - which is involved in barley and oat milling, manufacturing animal feeding stuffs and merchants of agricultural produce - pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The company admitted failing to carry out a risk assessment at Kelso Mills, failing to provide training to Mr Neil in cleaning the machine, failing to have a system where the electrical supply was isolated and failing to provide platforms for working at height. Gavin Anderson QC, representing John Hogarth. which employs 26 people and has an annual turnover of 8 million, said Mr Neil was a valued employee and it "was regrettable his working life with the company had come to an end in these circumstances".

Sheriff Kevin Drummond described the failures at the "upper end" of the scale.

He said he would have fined the company 25,000 but took into account they had no previous convictions and the guilty plea and reduced the fine to 16,750.